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March 28, 2014

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Josh Friedman

On the one hand, I was always intrigued by Art Donovan's take on the move, that there were far greater tragedies in world than a football team leaving. On the other hand, a lot of parallels can be drawn between current events and the departure of the Colts. As an aside, research has shown that there are only two sports franchises in the United States where their host city would be financially justified in building a new stadium rather than allow them to relocate...the Green Bay Packers and the Boston Celtics. For Baltimore however, as you point out, the Colts departure struck a nerve. There was a natural instinct to take their departure personally, as though we were not loyal fans, than we couldn't support a football team. The notion that the region could only support the Washington Redskins inflamed our fear of being perceived as a second-rate city compared to Washington (Dan Snyder still owns the territory rights over Baltimore if the Arena League ever returns). The NFL was just starting to realize the potential of television revenue and was seeking to spread its franchises out to a US population that was moving south and west. The truth is the departure of the Baltimore Colts was the result of cascade of failures. Yes, Irsay was a jerk who deserved plenty of blame. But the city and state knew for more than a decade that Memorial Stadium was antiquated (was never really state of the art to begin with). Our elected leaders had been warned since 1972 that both the Orioles and Colts might depart if Memorial Stadium wasn't replaced (hence a proposal to build the Baltodome). But our elected leaders, save for Don Schaefer, were unwilling to commit public funds. Some were even unwilling to spend tax dollars for something as simple as fixing Memorial Stadium's plumbing. The General Assembly showed Baltimore little empathy when they were unwilling to build a stadium in Baltimore and even proposed relocating the Orioles to the Laurel-Bowie area. And of course, this all brings us back to Irsay, the terrible product he put on the field, and the Baltimore fans who reacted the same way fans in any city would, by not buying tickets. For that matter, if you look at the Colts attendance numbers, they really weren't that bad compared to other losing teams. Also note, the Colts departure happened on the heals of the NFL players strike.

When I read the story of the Colts departure from Baltimore (it was just slightly before my time), I instantly think the the dilemma facing Columbia over its village centers. There is an instinct to take it as a personal swipe when we are told our village "cannot support" a grocery store, or other retail, when all the income data proves we can. We resent the premise that we should accept poor quality stores the same way Baltimore football fans were expected to support a heinously performing team. We see retailers consolidating the same way the NFL wanted to. (BTW, we blame the internet for the demise of newspapers when a significant part of a newspaper's revenue decline is the consolidation of retailers who are buying less ads). The conversation then turns to a political debate about what role tax dollars and the government should play in it all. Except this time, we're no longer talking about how people spend their Sunday afternoons. This debate is about what kind of quality of life we will all have. Lets not repeat the mistakes of the past.

Simon Najar

Well said Josh! I remember Julian Lapides as the stick in the mud almost derailing the study for a downtown stadium after the Colts left.

And there wasn't much national outcry when the Colts left, unlike the Browns/Ravens move, and the crap the former NFL commissioner said about the losers in the expansion building a museum.

After paying second fiddle, Baltimore has champions in the Colts, Stars, Stallions and Ravens.

I do wish the Colts name, uniform, records and colors had been left behind or retired. The Colts and probably Cowboys have the best uniforms for past 50 years.

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